How does cancer spread through the body?

November 21, 2014

Cancer usually begins with one tumor in a specific area of the body. But if the tumor is not removed, cancer has the ability to spread to nearby organs as well as places far away from the origin, like the brain. How does cancer move to these new areas and why are some organs more likely to get infected than others?

We Landed a Spacecraft on a Comet!

November 13, 2014

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta has become immortalised in space history as the first mission to land a spacecraft on a comet.

The ESA’s Rosetta mission sent a washing-machine-size probe named Philae to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Rosetta lander Philae

Despite a thruster failure on Wednesday, the three-legged, 100-kilogram probe set down successfully using harpoons and ice screws to anchor itself to the rubber-duck-shaped comet, to begin what could be up to a year or more of intensive scrutiny of the comet’s composition and structure.

The landing was predicted to be particularly fraught because of the comet’s rough surface, which is covered with boulders, crevasses and craters. Against all the odds, the 100-kilogram lander arrived safely within its target site.

Comet_67P_on_19_September_2014_NavCam_mosaic

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 and travelled 6.4 billion kilometres through the solar system before arriving at the comet in August.

During its decade-long journey, Rosetta has continued to push the boundaries of space engineering, from its three slingshot flybys of Earth and its two and a half year hibernation to Philae’s completely automated descent and landing.

Learn more here, here, here, here, here, here, here or here.

Cassini Sees Sunny Seas on Titan

November 2, 2014

As it soared past Saturn’s large moon Titan recently, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

In the past, Cassini had captured, separately, views of the polar seas and the sun glinting off them, but this is the first time both have been seen together in the same view. Check it out

Titan hydrocarbon seas

One more reason to get a good night’s sleep

October 19, 2014

The brain uses a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body’s mass. So how does this unique organ receive nutrients and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of wastes? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.

Back in 1942, we averaged almost 8 hours of sleep a night — now that’s down to 6.8. (Seven to 9 hours per night are what’s generally recommended.) For a list of 25 more unfortunate risks of partial and total sleep deprivation go here.

Biggest Walrus Gathering Recorded as Sea Ice Shrinks

October 5, 2014

Scientists have photographed the largest gathering of Pacific walruses ever recorded, on a beach in northern Alaska.

mass-walrus-gathering

It’s hardly the first big walrus gathering to be documented. But scientists say the size of the gatherings are growing as climate change melts Arctic sea ice, depriving walruses of their sunning platforms of choice.

As the ocean heats up due to global warming, Arctic sea ice has been locked in a downward spiral. Since the late 1970s, the ice has retreated by 12 percent per decade. Learn more here.

The Squeaking Caterpillar

September 27, 2014

This is Rhodinia fugax, an animal sometimes called the Squeaking Silkmoth. That’s because when you give it a gentle squeeze, it will sqeak adorably.

How not to be ignorant about the world

September 24, 2014

How much do you know about the world? This video demonstrates that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know.

World population will continue to rise

September 22, 2014

When it comes to the party that is planet Earth, we might need to plan for a few extra guests, according to scientists. A new statistical projection concludes that the world population is unlikely to level off during the 21st century, leaving the planet to deal with as many as 13 billion human inhabitants—4 billion of those in Africa—by 2100.

World population graph

Learn more here.

What happens when you have no cerebellum in your brain?

September 14, 2014

A woman has reached the age of 24 without anyone realising she was missing a large part of her brain. The case highlights just how adaptable the organ is.

The discovery was made when the woman was admitted to hospital complaining of dizziness and nausea. Doctors did a CAT scan and immediately identified the source of the problem – her entire cerebellum was missing. The space where it should be was empty of tissue. Instead it was filled with cerebrospinal fluid, which cushions the brain and provides defence against disease.

Scan showing no cerebellum (top). Normal brain (bottom).

Scan showing no cerebellum (top). Normal brain (bottom).

The cerebellum’s main job is to control voluntary movements and balance, and it is also thought to be involved in our ability to learn specific motor actions and speak. Problems in the cerebellum can lead to severe mental impairment, movement disorders, epilepsy or a potentially fatal build-up of fluid in the brain. However, in this woman, the missing cerebellum resulted in only mild to moderate motor deficiency, and mild speech problems such as slightly slurred pronunciation. Learn more here.

Giant dinosaur unearthed in Argentina

September 5, 2014

They just keep getting bigger. The latest dinosaur to be discovered was 26 metres long and seven times as heavy as Tyrannosaurus rex . Named Dreadnoughtus schrani by the team who found it, the bones belonged to the largest known land animal whose size can be reliably calculated. And it wasn’t even fully grown.

Dreadnoughtus schrani

The 77-million-year-old Dreadnoughtus skeleton was found in south-west Patagonia, Argentina, in 2005, and has taken several years to analyse. While other giants from Patagonia are known from a handful of bones, almost half of the Dreadnoughtus skeleton has been recovered. What’s more, the fossilised bones are in such good condition – even revealing where muscles attached – that the skeleton could provide unprecedented insights into the biology, movement and evolution of the group of huge plant-eating dinosaurs it belonged to, called the titanosaurian sauropods. Learn more here, here, here, here or here.


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